Apr 06, 2021

By Nicole Bitette
President and CEO of Streaming Tom Ryan explains how ViacomCBS’ streaming ecosystem opens up a world of content discovery.

At the beginning of his career in streaming, Tom Ryan knew he had to do things differently. In order to stand out among competitors, he would have to disrupt the model. So, in 2014, he introduced an ad-supported service that was almost like linear television: Pluto TV.

“People love to be programmed to,” explains Ryan. “They like to come home, put their keys down, turn on the TV, and zone out. So we wanted to take the best of television and marry it with the best of the internet, to create a new type of service. It would be linear in the age of on-demand, free in the age of paid subscription, and ad-supported at the time when folks thought advertising was going away.”

Those insights served Ryan well when ViacomCBS purchased Pluto TV in 2019 and then elevated him to president of the company’s streaming portfolio in October 2020, ahead of the launch of Paramount+. Now, he is combining his non-traditional thoughts and entrepreneurial insight to fuel ViacomCBS’ three-pronged streaming strategy, which focuses on free via Pluto TV, broad pay with Paramount+, and premium with SHOWTIME and BET+.

Below is a condensed interview from the ViacomCBS video series “Streaming On,” between host Dometi Pongo and Ryan.

 

Dometi Pongo: Could you talk about the importance of knowing when to throw conventional wisdom out the window and when to forge ahead on a path that people might find unexpected?

Tom Ryan: It really just comes down to consumer behavior. People don't want to have to do all of the work to find something entertaining, and that insight has served us. It's not just being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian—it's understanding that there are shades of gray when people say, “The whole world’s moving in a new direction.” Usually, the world’s not moving entirely in that direction.

People love to be programmed to. Curation, or discovery, is something that we're very serious about. With Paramount+, we're bringing a huge amount of content to market, but we want to make it super easy for people to enjoy that content.

DP: How do the insights you’ve gleaned from Pluto TV roll into Paramount+?

TR: With Pluto TV, we wanted to be a service that appealed to everyone in a household. You want to have something for everyone. Both Paramount + and Pluto TV have something for everyone. Paramount+ has live sports, breaking news, and a mountain of entertainment. Within those different categories, we have so much—over a thousand live games and matches and games per year, a huge amount of news, over 30,000 episodes of entertainment, over 2,500 movies, and over 50 originals coming over the next couple of years.

We also wanted Pluto TV to appeal to folks all around the country. It's great to appeal to the coasts, and often, when you're launching a new service, you're very much in that coastal mindset. But you know, there's a huge country here, and a huge world out there, and you want to create a service that really appeals to everyone. That's our mission for both Pluto TV and Paramount+.

DP: How does that ViacomCBS ecosystem of streaming services work together to provide the best value for consumers’ money?

TR: We believe that the future of streaming is going to look in some ways like traditional TV. You're going to have a free lane, a broad pay lane, and a premium lane. ViacomCBS is the only company with significant services in each of those lanes, which I think positions us extremely well.

In free, we've got Pluto TV, which is the leading free ad-supported streaming TV service in America, growing quickly around the world. In the broad pay segment, we just launched Paramount+, which we aim to turn into one of the biggest paid streaming services out there. Then, in the premium sector, we've got both SHOWTIME and BET+, which have really strong offerings and resonate with consumers in a way that makes them very powerful additions to our ecosystem.

We're looking to build an ecosystem where the whole is bigger than the sum of the parts. If people happen to churn out of a particular service, we can still keep them in the freebie ecosystem. ViacomCBS is the number one in linear TV, the number one among media companies in social, and of course we've got the number one free ad-supported streaming TV service. We’re going to use all of those assets to drive our audience to our streaming services.

We’ll also do more with bundling. We have done some bundles in the past, and we will be bringing more bundles to market, so that people can buy a number of our services and use them all together. We're going to integrate the services, so that you can consume them all in one place.

DP: Can you tell me about the look and feel of Paramount+? What is it going to look like in terms of design, and how will viewers be able to navigate the service?

TR: One of the things that we have going for us is that we've been in the market for years. Paramount+ is an evolution of CBS All Access. We're taking all of those learnings and refining the service. It's a clean service that makes it easy to find content on an on-demand basis. We're one of the only players out there in the paid streaming space that has a lot of live content as well. You can look for innovations in how we approach live, on-demand, and the interplay between the two.

We've got all of the things that you’ve come to expect from a great streaming service, including mobile downloads and 4K viewing Dolby vision. But a big focus of ours is also going to be on enabling discovery. We have a number of ways to get you in front of content that you're going to love—from our live news hub, for example, to all of the brand homes that we have on this service. Our brands really stand for the genres of content that they represent.

The service also has machine learning and recommendations that are personalized to you. Even interest-based channels, like we pioneered with Pluto TV, are coming to Paramount+. Because sometimes you just want to plop down on the couch, press the channel, and watch.

DP: How do you plan to innovate the service over time?

TR: That’s where the fun lies. We’re going to continue to innovate on features that allow people to discover and enjoy content quickly. This is not just about building something that looks like the other services that are out there. This is about carving our own lane.

When you're able to bring something to market that doesn't exist before, that’s where you find success. Of course, people are going to have certain expectations of what a streaming service has, and we'll have those things. But I think we're really going to shine by doing things differently.

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